"The cramps were so unbearable, I could barely sleep". Iga Świątek pulls back the curtain on what it takes to be successful

- The night following the US Open was difficult. The cramps were so unbearable, I could barely sleep. It's not until everything is done, you realize how hard it was. I played 72 matches this year. The costs are very real, but not visible at first glance - Iga Świątek says. In this exclusive interview for Sport.pl, the World No. 1 tennis player recalls her toughest, most important, and most teachable moments of this season.

Iga Świątek is currently in Texas. Starting October 31st, she will take part in WTA Finals in Fort Worth - a tournament for the eight best tennis players of 2022.

The 21-year-old Pole once again has a chance to prove it's her season. Świątek's domination in women's tennis is reminiscent of what Serena Williams once enjoyed. Out of the 72 matches played this year, Iga won 64 of them. Of the 16 tournaments in which she appeared this year, she secured 8 titles. In addition to the Grand Slam title for winning Roland-Garros in 2020, she subsequently scored two more wins - one in Paris, and another one in the US Open.

In an interview with Sport.pl Iga Świątek talks about her success and the road leading to it. Her victorious matches were not a walk in the park, as some journalists and sports fans, like to hastily call them.

Łukasz Jachimiak: Let's start with a warm-up question - imagine you are solving a crossword puzzle, much like you did during the rainy break in a match with Jessica Pegula in San Diego. You come across this clue: "a superhero who supported Iga Świątek in Ostrava".

Iga Świątek: That's easy - Batman was there!

After the finals, a much tougher question followed: "Iga, will you marry me?"

- Well, I think I have the right not to take that seriously, hopefully as do people who say those things. I just hope that this gentleman was not crying himself to sleep after not receiving a clear "yes" or "no" answer from me.

I have heard rumors, that people brought tiramisu to your hotel. 

- I suspect a lot of things happened there that I don't even know about. I just hadn't had the time. Firstly, all that was on my mind was the match, and right after the tournament, I had to fulfill my other obligations. Then, I had to quickly 'teleport' to Warsaw to catch a plane to San Diego. However, I'm certain Batman was there, alongside the tiramisu. The way people were reacting while I was defending match-balls in the finals, was most valuable for me. I finally failed on number 6. Nonetheless, my fans supported and cheered me up, to the point where I got emotional, which never happened before on the court, and I doubt it will ever happen again. I felt immensely proud of myself. Proud of how well my season is going, and that I've gained lots of great fans. I felt incredibly thankful for the energy they gave me. It was truly an amazing experience. Ostrava was much like an international match. Finals were held in the Czech Republic, close to the Polish border, with Barbora Krejcikova - a Czech opponent. It all worked out perfectly.

Very emotional final in Ostrava followed by an immediate, 9-hour time-zone change in San Diego, with no time to rest. Result - finals and a secured title - in both tournaments you played with a cold - I might add. To sum up, a fitting depiction of how things are going would be this: fatigue is mounting up, as are the trophies, while the atmosphere keeps getting better and better.

- I talked about the positive atmosphere around me, but I would also like to do our team justice, and mention how supportive they were. After Roland Garros, I felt I had to keep up in the second half of the season. I felt I had to play at least at the same level. The expectations escalated also from the outside - in the eyes of public opinion. That's when the grass courts came into play. That made me a bit uneasy and I had to readjust, both in terms of playing matches and being on tour, in general. With the help of my team, I won the US Open because, I lowered my expectations, and that released some pressure. We've done great work during the US swing. In New York I played with much more ease, not caring what others think, not caring how I felt on a given day. During the US open I realized I could still win matches even if I'm not 100% in control of my game. I still could score. I learned a lot from this tournament, and hope to use that knowledge in the future.

 

After the US Open, you had 25 days of rest, then you got to the finals in Ostrava, and won in San Diego. Based on that, one could say that you've had your recovery and can keep going. But probably that is not how you see it.

Not at all. I'm playing since January. To this day, I have completed 72 games on different continents. It's starting to take its toll on my head and my legs. There were plenty of challenges to face. I'm very happy to have a team, that lets me rest after the Grand Slam tournaments. Last year that wasn't the case. I remember when I started working with coach Wiktorowski, he gave me 5 days off after the Australian Open. I was in shock. I was wondering what could I do with that much time off. Now I feel that each next tournament is very demanding, physically. It becomes harder and harder to stay focused and energized. Ostrava and San Diego were the hardest, so far. Even though I had a good time-zone change going to San Diego - it's better to travel east-to-west than the other way around, I still found it exhausting. I had a cold - that didn't help, so I'm very proud to have kept a high level of performance despite those obstacles.  

And how are you feeling now, a week before your last tournament this year?

- I rested for 2 days in Florida, and on Monday we flew to Texas. I've recovered somewhat, at least to be able to play in the Finals. After that, I'm going to need a longer rest period. It takes more time for me to recover nowadays. After the Australian Open, I felt fully rested just after 2 of the 5 days I had off court. I felt fresh and ready. This wasn't the case after US Open.

Iga ŚwiątekIga Świątek Fot. Jakub Porzycki / Agencja Wyborcza.pl

What happened?

The cramps were so unbearable, I could barely sleep. During such an event there is a lot of stress. It is not until the end that you start to realize how hard it was. When you no longer are obliged to perform, when the adrenaline fades away, and the excitement cools off - that's when you feel it. The night after the final was very difficult. Suffering sleeplessly, I thought to myself, that there are athletes who experience such pain each time they perform, and I felt lucky that in tennis it rarely happens. I survived and it's all good now, however that was one of the hardest moments this year. When this season is done, I need a long vacation to fully recover.

Now I understand why you didn't jump for joy with your US Open trophy like you did after winning Roland Garros.  

- It would not have ended well. I could tell the difference in fatigue between US Open and Roland Garros. If Ons Jabeur took me into the third set, I think I would have a hard time winning.

 

I think nobody is going to believe that! 

- Why? 

Because You have shown, time and again, how well physically prepared you are. And despite the exhaustion after the US Open, despite the cold, and the jet lag, you still managed to win in San Diego, three three-set matches.

- Correct. I've pulled through.

Are you positive you could not compete in Billie Jean King Cup? Just to remind our readers, the WTA Finals in Texas ends on November 7, while on November 9 in Glasgow the polish team will have their first BJKC match, with you absent.

- I have made this decision to ensure I can play next season healthy and injury-free. I played 72 matches this year. The costs are very real, but not visible at first glance. I need to take care of myself. Playing in the BJKC would mean another time-zone change, this time the disadvantageous way around for the body. Also a change in climate, from warm to cold. A change of surface, in rhythm, routine. All that would need to happen instantaneously.

Iga ŚwiątekFot. Mary Altaffer / AP

Are you aware that some fans say: "Jessica Pegula and Coco Gauff will play both, the WTA Finals and the Billie Jean King Cup. If that is the case, then perhaps Iga could as well?". Are you a bit cross with the Americans, for not solidarizing with you on this matter?

- Not at all cross. I never expected them to make the same decision. I am, however, very curious about how it will work out for them, and if it's going to affect the shape they're in.

Your decision is also a symbolic one: The no. 1 tennis player steps up against bad and harmful decisions made by the organizers. Correct? You pulled out because you do not want to risk your health, but also to send a message to the WTA and ITF, that they need to cooperate, and stop forcing athletes to switch continents so often without taking a break.

- That is also my intention. I had to take such measures. The planning is very unfortunate and unfavorable for female tennis players. I can't fathom why this is happening the second year in a row. This year, and the year before, you could see many players paying the price, for trying to carry out such a dense schedule and competing in both tournaments. They have lost their top shape for several months, afterward. I'm hoping next year, the WTA and ITF will improve their cooperation in terms of scheduling and locations of both tournaments. This degrades the level of the show. I understand it must be difficult to choose between various venues, cities, and which fans to please, but I still think that players, and therefore, the fans should be the top priority.

Billie Jean King Cup stirs powerful emotions, however, the incident with waving your hands at the net during the final with Donna Vekić does, arguably even more. Everyone saw you apologized afterward, but how would you comment on this type of distraction tactic? Is it because of how determined you are to win? A will to fight for every single point, even if it seems inevitably lost?

- It is that. I can't control it, but I hope it will never happen again. We are working on it. It is a stress reaction to what is happening. It is an involuntary reaction. I did it during the US Open, and as I recall it was a stressful moment. In San Diego, I did it unconsciously. Right after the game I approached Donna and apologized. She had no hard feelings, it turned out she didn't recall this at all. I hope fans will understand me as well. I'm aware of the many negative comments on the internet concerning this incident. I'm not proud of the fact, that sometimes I'm not in control of what I do on the court. It's a purely instinctual behavior. Maybe I've seen one too many football games, and taken notice of what goalies do during penalty shots (laughs).

The 2005 Champions League finals saw the Dudek dance - you were 4 years old then - bravo for knowing Polish sports history.

- Ha ha, yes I am aware of it. I've seen many replays.

I'm sure you needn't worry about being harshly judged for waving your hands during the match because in general fans like and appreciate you. Have you seen the Twitter musings on who would win: Ash Barty in top shape from the 2022 Australian Open or you?

- I've seen some comments, and the way they were written - does not appeal to me. There were plenty of scenarios stating that if indeed a match between the two of us would take place, no one would take notice. Who knows, maybe that's what will happen. I would very much enjoy playing against Ash someday. This would be great, as when I first started, she was the leader, and in top shape, and I always had great respect for her style. It's a shame that we missed each other a bit and I wasn't able to show my best tennis against her.

In the Eurosport survey, 65 percent of voters found that, in your top shape, you would take the victory over Barty.

- Ooh! I did not know that! Voting is voting and sport is sport, however.

Sport says you've won 8 out of 16 tournaments you played. As far as tennis is concerned, that is unheard of. Is there a large enough cabinet for your trophies in your new apartment?

- I love each one of them, but most of the already have their place - in the attic.

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